CARRICK-a-REDE ROPE BRIDGE, is a famous rope bridge near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The bridge links the mainland to the tiny, rocky island of Carrickarede (from Irish —- Carraig a’ Raid, meaning “Rock of the Casting”). It spans 66ft over a chasm that is 80ft deep and is 98ft above the rocks below.
The bridge is mainly a tourist attraction, and is owned and maintained by the National Trust. In 2009, it had 247,000 visitors. The bridge is open all year round (subject to weather) and people may cross it for a fee.
It is though salmon fishermen have been building to the island for over 350 years. It has taken many forms over the years. In the 1970s, it had only one hand-rail and large gaps between the slats. A new bridge tested up to 10 tonnes was built with the help of local climbers and abseilers in 2000. Another was built in 2004, which offered visitors and fishermen alike a much safer passage to the island.
The current wire rope and Douglas fir bridge was made by Heyn Constructions in Belfast and raised early in 2008 at a cost of over 16,000 pounds. Although no one has fallen off the bridge, there have been many instances where visitors, unable to face the walk back across the bridge, had to be taken off the island by boat.
It is no longer used by fishermen during the “salmon season”, which used to last fro June until September, as there are now very few salmon left. In the 1960s, almost 300 fish were caught each day, but by 2002, only 300 were caught over the whole season. The salmon come through the area to spawn in the River Bann and the River Bush.
The area is exceptional in natural beauty with stunning views of Rathlin Island and Scotland. The site and surrounding area is designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest for its unique geology, flora and fauna. Underneath, there are large caves, which once served as home for boat builders and as shelter during stormy weather.
Carrickarede Island is the best example of a “volcanic plug” in Northern Ireland. Marine erosion has exposed a section through the neck of this old volcano. The presence of “tuff”, explosion “breccias”, grey volcanic ash and explosion bombs, show the extreme violence of the eruptions about 60 million years ago, when molten rock punched its way through “chalk”.
Along the coast of this area, as with much of the Antrim Plateau, the cliffs are of “basalt” with the characteristic “Ulster Chalk” underneath. At Carrickarede, the ancient “volcanic pipe” has left “dolerite”, a tougher rock than “basalt”, which erodes more slowly. Behind the dolerite to the south, the vent is filled with “pyroclastic rocks” that break down more easily, mostly a coarse tuff agglomerate. The combination of the hard rock out front and the softer rock behind, with long-term erosion by the waves, has eventually left this small island. The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is termed “Hanging History” and “A Bridge Too Far”.